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Abe’s milestone met with groans except in home constituency

  • August 25, 2020
  • , The Asahi Shimbun , 6:19 p.m.
  • English Press

There was much rejoicing in the prime minister’s home constituency in Yamaguchi Prefecture on Aug. 24 over news that Shinzo Abe had marked a record for consecutive days in office, but in Okinawa, Hiroshima and Nagasaki prefectures, the reaction was a mighty yawn tinged with despair.


Toshinobu Nakasato, a former chairman of the Okinawa prefectural assembly of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, voiced utter frustration over the Abe administration’s haughty stance toward local issues that deeply concern Okinawans.


“The voices of Okinawans have long been ignored by the LDP, but the party was even more high-handed” under Abe’s leadership, Nakasato, 83, said.


Abe chalked up 2,799 straight days in office on Aug. 24, longer than any other prime minister in the nation’s constitutional history.


When the LDP returned to power in the Lower House election in December 2012, Nakasato was a staunch LDP member. At the time, the party’s prefectural chapter, like the opposition bloc, clamored for the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the city of Ginowan to be relocated outside of the prefecture, rather than in the Henoko district of Nago.


But as soon as the Abe administration found its footing for a second time, LDP members in the Diet and in the Okinawa prefectural chapter began giving the thumbs up to the relocation to Henoko. Next-to-no explanation was offered for the turnaround, which drove home the administration’s no-nonsense approach to islanders fed up with hosting a massively disproportionate ratio of U.S. military facilities in Japan.


Nakasato, who lives in the town of Haebaru, quit the party in 2013. He had served in the prefectural assembly as an LDP member for 16 years.


In the gubernatorial election in 2014, he backed Takeshi Onaga, a fierce opponent of the Futenma relocation within the prefecture.


And Nakasato himself also became a symbol of the “All-Okinawa” alliance of progressives and conservatives in opposition to the central government’s Futenma relocation plan by capturing a seat in the Lower House election the same year.


But the Abe administration paid no heed to the outcry, which Nakasato said left Okinawans resigned to feeling powerlessness in the face of a formidable central government based in Tokyo. He lost his seat in the Lower House election in 2017.


Nakasato is pessimistic about the future of Okinawa under an LDP government.


“Before, the party at least had an understanding of questions surrounding Okinawa as some legislators had wartime experiences,” said Nakasato, who lost relatives during the 1945 Battle of Okinawa and knew full well the frustrations locals felt over U.S. military rule of the island in the ensuing years.


“Under the current state of the LDP, Okinawa will be forced to remain the ‘island of bases,’” he said, referring to the fact that about 70 percent of all U.S. military facilities in Japan are in Okinawa.


Photographer Asahi Fukuhara said the first word that came to mind when he learned about Abe setting a record that will likely stand for many years was “unreasonable.”


Fukuhara, who is 26 and based in Naha, helped organize a popular drive for a referendum on the relocation of the Futenma base, a move intended to reassert islanders’ opposition to the project.


The outcome of the 2019 referendum was 70 percent opposed.


But the Abe administration ignored the local sentiment and went ahead with controversial landfill and reclamation work off Henoko that was later found to be ill-conceived.


If Abe wants to leave a political legacy, Fukuhara said resolving the U.S. bases issue should be the one he tackles in his remaining days in office.


“Abe will be long remembered if he makes a historic decision to put an end to the Henoko project out of respect for the will of Okinawans,” he said.


In Yamaguchi Prefecture, prefectural authorities and the city hall in Shimonoseki in Abe’s constituency hoisted banners emblazoned with remarks celebrating the milestone.


But there was little enthusiasm to mark the occasion in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where atomic bomb survivors are still fighting for the global abolition of nuclear weapons.


“Abe could have achieved something noteworthy in terms of banning nuclear weapons as he has been in power for so long,” said Toshiyuki Mimaki, a senior official with the Hiroshima Prefecture Confederation of Atomic Bomb Sufferers Organization.


Mimaki, 78, urged Abe to adopt policies that will give hope to survivors when he met with the prime minister, but no action followed.


Japan, the only nation to have experienced atomic bombing, has yet to sign the U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons of 2017 despite mounting calls from hibakusha in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.


The Japan-U.S. Security Treaty that makes Japan a key ally of the United States ensures that Japan is protected by the U.S. nuclear umbrella.


Koichi Kawano, 80, chairman of the A-bomb survivors’ liaison council of the Nagasaki Prefecture Peace Movement Center, expressed dismay at the lack of leadership over the issue.


“What Japan has been doing all these years is to watch out for the United States, while being under the U.S. nuclear umbrella,” he said.

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